Our latest recap takes us from October of 1959 through to July of 1961 – a shade under two years – our shortest burst of thirty #1s yet. But ahead of that I’d like to wish all you readers of the UK Number Ones Blog a very happy new year, and all the best for 2019. May it be a truly chart-topping year for you all!
How to sum up the past bunch, then? I’d perhaps go for a term that I used in earlier posts: ‘the castration of rock ‘n’ roll…’ Whereas in our previous recap we had huge, era-defining, rock ‘n’ roll chart-toppers from Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, and Elvis – Goodness Gracious! Everybody let’s rock! That’ll be the Day, my dream lover! – this past bunch has been a lot more gentile. More sedate. Slightly dull at times…?
We kicked off the sixties with a run of pleasant enough easy-listening pop-songs-with-rock ‘n’ roll-flourishes. A couple from Adam Faith. A couple from Anthony Newley. A return to the top for Michael Holliday. Lonnie Donegan losing all his fizz on ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’. Nothing particularly wrong with any of them – in fact I picked out ‘Starry Eyed’ and ‘Poor Me’ at the time as decent little pop records – but all a little homogenous. Then there’s Cliff, who may be the biggest star Britain has to offer at this time, but who has consistently struggled to raise a pulse with throwaway fluff like ‘Travellin’ Light’ and ‘I Love You’. So – plenty of blandness from which to crown our latest ‘Meh’ award winner. I’m going to roll the dice and give the trophy to ‘Why’ by Anthony Newley, for erring too much on the cute side, and for relying a little too much on a xylophone.
Talking of slightly bland, slightly disappointing records… We need to talk about Elvis. He’s back, fresh from the army, with four #1s in a little over six months. Which makes it four chart-toppers in the previous recap; four in this one. And while we still missed out on the truly raw, Sun Records Elvis; we were still getting plenty of vim and vigour on discs such as ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘One Night’, and ‘I Got Stung’ back then. Now, however, we’re getting granny-pleasing light opera on ‘It’s Now or Never’ and ‘Surrender’, and simpering (though heartfelt) ballads like ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ Elvis has lost his bite, and with him, it seems, so has rock ‘n’ roll as a whole. He has pretty much invented the modern pop superstar over the past few months, though. Every single release of his marching to the top of the charts and spending extended periods of time in residence at the summit. And it shows no sign of ending as we move into the next thirty discs. Elvis ain’t leaving the building just yet.
I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture of pop music at the dawn of the sixties, though. If you stop searching for the lesser-spotted rock song, you’ll find a pleasingly wide variety of other chart-toppers. Since October ’59, we’ve had Big Band sounds from Bobby Darin and ‘Mack the Knife’, jaunty doo-wop in the shape of Emile Ford’s ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’, fun novelties with ‘Running Bear’, piano rags with Floyd Cramer and the purest of pure pop in Johnny Tillotson’s ‘Poetry in Motion’. All these records fall into the ‘good – often quirky – but not worthy of honour’ category. Instead, we have to give credit to a real outlier – a record that squeaked a week at the top and really made me stop and think ‘Huh?’ I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the winner of this round’s ‘WTAF’ Award is ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven: a record that was simultaneously modern and meta, retro and nostalgic. And slightly smug.
Before I get down to the main awards – the best and the worst – it’s time for an honourable mention. ‘Sailor’, by Petula Clark, topped the charts for a single week back in February ’61. One week, out of the ninety-three it’s taken to cover the past thirty songs. But it was the only song in this recap to have been sung by a lady. Under other circumstances, ‘Sailor’ – a syrupy and somewhat old-fashioned ballad – might have qualified for the ‘Meh’ Award. As it is, the fact that it was sung by a member of the fairer sex is enough to make it stand out.
So, to the worst. Two songs immediately spring to mind, standing head, shoulders and torso above the rest. I was about to close the competition, call the bets off, after I heard Ricky Valance’s ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ – the deathliest of death discs. But I hadn’t reckoned with us hitting Elvis’s ‘Lederhosen Phase’… ‘Tell Laura…’ is a truly awful song; but it’s a one-hit wonder, a novelty of sorts. ‘Wooden Heart’ is the sound of the world’s most famous singer, a sex-symbol the sight of whose pelvis once caused widespread swooning, serenading some puppets in German. And topping the UK charts for six weeks in the process. There can only be one winner…
Let’s clear our mind of that trash, though, as we have a Best Disc to pick. I’ve whittled the best of this bunch down to seven classics. We have: Bobby Darin’s ‘Mack the Knife’ for bringing along some classy swing. ‘Apache’ for reinventing the much-maligned (by me, anyway) instrumental. ‘Only the Lonely’ as the breakthrough for the ever-young voice of Roy Orbison. ‘Blue Moon’ for giving us a shot in the arm of frenzied, acapella doo-wop. And Del Shannon’s inventive yet timeless ‘Runaway’. But none of these discs – excellent as they are – quite make it. Two remain. I really want to hand the trophy to ‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, for being the one genuine rock ‘n’ roll disc here. A British rock ‘n’ roll disc, nonetheless, with a killer riff and sweat-drenched vocals. But. I am only human; and I can’t not award the Best of the Last 30 to… ‘Cathy’s Clown’ by the Everlys. Why? Just click on the link and listen, that’s why!
In case you’ve lost track, then:
The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
Our next thirty will take us right up to the dawn of Merseybeat – what those on the other side of the Atlantic call the ‘British Invasion’. Strap yourselves in. Before that, though… We wrapped this recap up with the Everlys, and we kick the next round off with none other than the…